Ashoka Fellow since 2023   |   Indonesia

Gita Syahrani

Lingkar Temu Kabupaten Lestari (LTKL)
Gita is building a new model of collaboration between local & national government, private, and non-profit sectors, enabling rural districts responsible for Indonesia’s vital carbon capture areas…
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Koalisi Ekonomi Membumi [Down-to-Earth Economy Coalition]

2023 - 2023
This description of Gita Syahrani's work was prepared when Gita Syahrani was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2023.


Gita is building a new model of collaboration between local & national government, private, and non-profit sectors, enabling rural districts responsible for Indonesia’s vital carbon capture areas to create sustainable, economic development for their people.

The New Idea

After Indonesia underwent major decentralization, the national government allowed district level governments, for the first time, to develop their own policies and proposals for economic development and environmental conservation. Rural districts in Indonesia, however, were largely left on their own, and are still struggling to find pathways and partners to balance natural resources and economic growth for local people. Overexploitation, especially in forests and peatlands by large corporations, has caused increased natural disasters in the districts while still not providing people with a more sustainable, alternative livelihood. Recognizing this unique opportunity, Gita successfully convinced eight districts leaders in 2017 to form Lingkar Temu Kabupaten Lestari (Indonesia’s Sustainable Districts Association), a new kind of district association that commits to creating a sustainable economy.

Through Lingkar Temu Kabupaten Lestari (LTKL), Gita creates a new mechanism for districts to connect and collaborate with professional, corporate, CSO and youth organizations, and the local community to conserve environmental resources and create environmental services and products that are consistent with maintaining forest and related resources in the area. LTKL supports district members in creating innovative development plans that commit to 1) protect at least fifty percent of the total essential ecosystems within LTKL district jurisdiction and 2) ensure that at least 1 million families living in and/or around important ecosystems in LTKL districts improve their wellbeing. LTKL's target will cover 5.5 million hectares of forest and almost 2 million hectares of peat while lifting the welfare of families in its districts. Gita works with district governments to attract quality investment to increase regional competitiveness and create new job and business opportunities, with the end goal of reducing disasters and climate crises.

LTLK is creating a blueprint that can be used by the remaining districts in Indonesia that cover vital forests and peatland. To achieve this goal, LTKL has became a caucus of the National Association of Districts Government in Indonesia (APKASI) and convene 72 private and public institutions as a network of partners to date who, together with LTKL, create collaborative action in each district. In addition, the new model of LTKL has been recognized and supported by the Indonesian national government through National Mid- term Development Plan (RPJMN), series of collaborative programs with Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Investment, Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Cooperative & Small Medium Scale Enterprises and SMESCO Indonesia which led to the involvement of LTKL in the G20 summit hosted in Bali in 2022. It also allowed district members to earn investment opportunities from both public and non-public source.

Recognizing that engaging and retaining young people in the districts is a crucial part of this economic recovery, Gita also enables local young people to be part of the ecosystem. Through the Generasi Lestari Program, Gita recruits and trains local young people to be involved in LTKL programs. Now, each of the nine districts has a youth organization where young people lead activities such as conducting workshops on entrepreneurship, helping local small businesses market their products via e-commerce, producing their own local products, and creating nationwide youth events and other activities.

The Problem

Indonesia is home to a large natural carbon capture area, with 14 million hectares of peatlands, roughly 23% of the world’s tropical peatlands, and 98 million hectares of tropical forest. These large areas are divided into kabupaten areas (districts) in Indonesia, with more than 400 kabupaten nationwide, mostly in remote areas. Of the 400 kabupaten, approximately 79 kabupaten contain about 80% of Indonesia’s entire important ecosystem for emission reduction. However, because the Indonesian government tends to focus its investment on business and industry in cities, many rural kabupaten struggle with outmigration, poverty, and low levels of education. The gap between city (kota) and district (kabupaten) is huge, making most districts vulnerable to environmental degradation. While environmental regulation is meant to conserve the environment, kabupaten are struggling to do so while still uplifting the livelihoods of their citizens, many of whom depend on harmful environmental practices to make a living.

Indonesian society already lacks trust in their government. The World Bank ranked Indonesia 0.38 points out of 2.5 on good governance. Lack of participation, transparency, and accountability creates an inefficient government that faces environmental and economic challenges, especially at the district level. District governments also face challenges in managing their natural resources due to a lack of evidence-based decision making, limited staff numbers, and limited networks. Ineffective governance further exacerbates a lack of trust and collaboration: local governments are unaware of best practices, skepticism builds in the private and non-profit sector that the district government is unreliable in running a program, and other stakeholders are not willing to collaborate.

On top of that, the outmigration of young people pushes kabupaten into a brain-drain stage where no local talent is willing to work in environmental conservation or create sustainable products that do not harm, degrade, or decrease resources. This trend is associated with the systemic marginalization of young people due to a perceived lack of experience. Thus, young people are often excluded and underrepresented in government affairs and programs—driving high-achieving young people out of kabupaten and into bigger cities. With no fresh ideas and innovation from the younger generation, kabupaten are struggling to revive the economy and solve the growing environmental issues of today.

The Strategy

Only a small number of districts (approximately 79 kabupaten) contain almost 80% of Indonesia’s forests and peatlands – crucial carbon sink and important ecosystem areas’. Yet district governments were ill-equipped to take on this responsibility and struggling to balance resource exploitation and conservation.

The first thing that Gita established within Lingkar Temu Kabupaten Lestari (LTKL) was a collaborative process to bring together local district governments in kabupatens with large carbon capture areas with partners and the community around economic growth. Gita knew that there were many aspects on which local government could collaborate with other partners in the districts, but she quickly realized that this element was missing because the different groups didn’t speak to each other. When bringing a district into LTKL, Gita starts by having each district share their ideas about what potential products or sectors they want to develop/manage. She allows each district to decide whether to develop forest products, peat products, a combination of the two, or something else. Once she understands the community’s ideas, Gita combines research and data-driven testing to validate the concept and ideas brought by the districts. With LTKL’s process, Gita involves other partner organizations, such as local CSOs, businesses, incubators, youth organizations, and other strategic partners and hears their input. When other partners are involved, the district government can get a clearer picture of what kind of programs, products, and sectors can be explored together. It can become economic potential for the districts.

As a result, in 2020, Gita successfully supported Kabupaten Siak to create sustainable value-added products and services supported by local young professionals and other partners, Alam Siak Lestari (ASL). Alam Siak Lestari produces value-added products from peat-friendly commodities and developed peat conservation by innovating the health & nutrition industry using HEAL (Healthy Ecosystem & Alternative Livelihood) Fisheries. ASL decided to produce albumin from Snakehead Murrel, a native fish from Siak. Albumin has been proven effective as a medication for wounds and circumcision for locals, and it contains high protein. Tapping into an industry estimated to reach a 6.5 billion projected value by 2026, within two years of operation and the support of LTKL, ASL managed to secure investors, build a high-quality lab and production centers, secure long-term buyers for their product, and win international & national recognition. This success story prompted other districts to implement the same model, including districts outside of LTKL membership. Using the LTKL model, transactions amounted to almost 25,000 USD in sustainable products and/or services across the nine districts. LTKL successfully attracted sustainable investment for the nine districts in the past five years, including 470,000 USD of private sector investment to support the establishment of new sustainable business entities in two districts and almost 3 million USD in philanthropic contributions to support sustainable districts transformation across the nine districts.

The success of Kabupaten Siak was early proof of concept that collaborative effort among the district ecosystem was working. But Gita realized there should be another avenue for collaborative work between district government and strategic partners. She found a creative way to connect them is through art & culture - including music, visual art and culinary experiences. Every two years, district members of LTKL takes turn in hosting Festival Lestari. Festival Lestari is an opportunity for LTKL member districts to showcase their local products and tourism, culture, and culinary programs, as well as other districts’ potential development. The festival invited public figures, artists, potential sponsors/investors, and the central government. Since this usually is one of the biggest festivals in the district, the interaction also strengthened the existing collaborative work between district governments and their partners as well as in LTKL ecosystem.

The innovative approaches and collaborative work done by LTKL has now triggered national-level economic collaboration. The crucial one is the multi-stakeholder collaboration actions through the formation of the Down-to-Earth Economy Coalition and the preparation of the Sustainable Investment Guidance, which was initiated at the G20 summit in 2022. The Grounded Economy Coalition is a joint declaration of the SME Cooperatives Ministry, SMESCO Indonesia, the Investment Ministry, the Trade Ministry with the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KADIN), the Indonesian Employers Association (APINDO) and the Coalition of Grounded Economic Development Partners which shows commitment and endorses to bring together at least more than 100 large-scale green investment opportunities and more than 200 micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) from various regions through a work plan targeted at a total valuation of USD 200 million between 2022-2026. This collaboration enables districts in Indonesia to get support from key stakeholders, including the central government, which was previously lacking. It has also shown how this multi-collaboration work by LTKL members can be adapted at the national level and how the model could expand to other districts outside LTKL.

With many successes from the district members of LTKL, there is also demand for more districts to join LTKL as members. Her work with the nine districts within LTKL has already generated interest in the remaining ‘priority’ carbon capture districts, and Gita sees this as an opportunity to scale in the future. To gain their trust and build their capacity in the meantime, Gita connects the districts to Tanah Air Lestari (TAL), a social enterprise in LTKL’s network of partners. TAL provides a professional consultant to support the other district in learning the same model as LTKL. Ten districts have already begun working together with TAL, allocating their budget, and investing more in sustainable businesses and empowering the local community to be part of their district program. Several more districts have found the concept of LTKL working well in their district and are in queue to become LTKL members. Gita also works with these districts, giving them milestones and steps to achieve, to gauge the commitment level of these districts. By introducing non- members to her network of partners like TAL, not only is Gita expanding her work, but it is also putting her in a better bargaining position with district leaders and the ecosystem. She has successfully shifted the mindset of these districts that the work of LTKL is serious work that requires 100% commitment from the whole district stakeholders.

Moving forward, Gita believes that young people play a crucial role in achieving 2030 economic sustainability for LTKL members. She has begun preparing young people to be the future district leaders through Generasi Lestari, a program for young people in the

districts to become changemakers. LTKL successfully scouts the best young local talent. The selected Generasi Lestari are then assigned to become a local LTKL representative that works with district staff and joins a series of accelerated programs designed by LTKL. Generasi Lestari successfully inspired local young people to create their own project that supports LTKL’s work in the district. For example, in Kabupaten Siak (Siak District), they founded Skelas (Siak Sustainable Creative Center), which teaches young people how to be entrepreneurs, and offers courses on public speaking, marketing, financial planning, and many other subjects. Skelas is now already an independent group that hosts its own national-level event. In Kabupaten Sigi, young people have founded GAMPIRI Interaksi, which focused on developing small businesses to produce sustainable products. Generasi Lestari is now a vital part of Gita’s ecosystem. With this, she is seeing young people understand that they don’t have to move to Jakarta to become successful, because their hometown already has natural resources that provide a wealth of opportunities for them.

The Person

One of Gita’s earliest memories is with her grandmother who taught her to talk to plants while watering them. Gita’s grandmother told her that the plants would be happy to simply hear her talk about her day, which is what Gita did for most of her young life, making nature her friends and family. One day when Gita was in kindergarten, her trusted rickshaw driver casually kicked a dog that was blocking the road. This moment made her determined to ‘make everyone love animals and nature...’ and even today, she marks this as the moment she found her lifelong goal.

Gita developed and honed her skills for more than 15 years. At university, she took a double degree in Environmental law & International Law at Padjajaran University – the only student to do so. During her first job at a law firm, she convinced the owner to open an environmental law division and later became the trusted head of the division. Her entrepreneurial mindset led her to become an expert in financial instruments, working with the government of Indonesia in implementing funding from Norway to mitigate the effects of deforestation on degradation. Gita also pioneered working with kabupaten to conserve the environment and uplift the economy of local people.

Her leadership with kabupatens inspired two districts to commit and work under a new framework: conserving the environment through sustainable economic practices that uplift people’s living standards. The two districts then scaled up and invited Gita, as the leading voice in the effort, to work on the bigger coalition, which was the genesis of LTKL. Believing that regulations alone could not change behaviors and that it would take collective action to design and implement a framework, Gina established Lingkar Temu Kabupaten Lestari.